Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
FORMER Zimbabwe international George Mbwando feels the home-based Warriors failed the nation at the 2016 African Nations Championship and the players, rather than the coach or ZIFA, should shoulder the blame for the debacle.
The Warriors crashed out of the CHAN finals after just two group games, the first time the team has suffered such an embarrassment, following back-to-back defeats against Zambia and Mali in Rubavu, Rwanda.
Although they were the group seeds owing to the country’s impressive record in the tournament — qualifying for every CHAN finals and also reaching the semi-finals of the last tourney in South Africa two years ago — the Warriors were blown away after just 180 minutes of action in Rwanda.
Although they dominated both their games against Zambia and Mali, and created a number of golden opportunities, the Warriors came short where it mattered most, firing blanks in the two games, as their misfiring forwards gave a classic exhibition of how not to score goals.
The Warriors will play their final match, a dead rubber, against Uganda this afternoon and they carry the burden of needing a victory to ensure that they won’t be branded as the worst group to represent the country at the tournament.
The first group of Warriors to play at the CHAN finals, in 2009 in Cote d’Ivoire, might have failed to win a game but they didn’t lose any of their three matches, drawing against the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana and Libya.
That DRC and Ghana battled in the final, with the former winning the tournament, just showed the quality of those Warriors who also provided some of the players for the team of the tournament, including outstanding midfielder Ovidy Karuru, despite having fallen in the group stages.
Two years later, the Warriors also crashed out in the group games in Sudan, but they had the consolation of picking a victory after beating Ghana while losing to South Africa and Niger.
The Class of 2014 then turned on the show, picking five points from their group to qualify for the quarter-finals where they beat Mali 2-1, before falling in the semi-finals after losing a penalty shoot-out lottery to eventual winners Libya.
The Warriors’ doomed mission in Rwanda has sparked a nationwide debate with some of the fans blaming the ZIFA leadership, for failing to provide the team with a friendly international in their preparations for the showcase, while others feel that coach Callisto Pasuwa was found wanting on the big stage.
Others feel that Pasuwa needs a stronger backroom staff and have questioned the value that his assistants, Saul Chaminuka and Nation Dube, who have regularly failed to make a big impression on the domestic front, bring to the team.
Mbwando, who was part of the first group of Warriors to play at the Nations Cup finals when — under the leadership of Sunday Chidzambwa — they ended the nation’s lengthy wait for a place at the continent’s premier football showcase by booking their ticket in Tunisia a dozen years ago.
A member of the Young Warriors’ team which finished second at the 1995 All-Africa Games, Mbwando has spent the better part of the last 20 years living in Germany where he played professional football before time eventually caught up with him.
He has, to his credit, kept a very close eye on Zimbabwe football, donating sporting equipment to Alois Bunjira’s football academy three years ago, and — at one stage — even contemplating to run for the ZIFA presidency.
He believes that those who have been blaming Pasuwa or ZIFA for the debacle are missing the plot. “After watching the two games from Rwanda, I just thought that they want orange juice from Pasuwa when he has only lemons,” Mbwando posted on his Facebook page.
“This time we never heard of any boycotts, or any monetary problems, of which I assume, everything was catered for this time (also giving credit where it is due).
It’s high time the PLAYERS understand what it means to have the honour of wearing the green-and-gold.
“It means giving everything for the country and, with a little fighting spirit, we could have avoided the two defeats.”
Mbwando said he did not see any leaders in that Warriors team during their Rwandan adventure. “The young players should also learn to take responsibility on the pitch otherwise the team has a lot of potential #zvichanaka chete,” he said. His post triggered a number of responses with Brassio Bakasa saying he agreed with the player nicknamed Zambia after he demolished Kabwe Warriors, with the first hat-trick by a foreign player at the old Independence Stadium in Lusaka, as Blackpool stunned the Zambian side in the old African Cup of Cup Winners tournament. “Taura hako Zambia. Vanongoti chero zvazvaita apa kutozodawo marii futi,” said Bakasa.
Another contributor, Bla Wellas, added his voice by saying “wise words Jojola, better still coming from you, because you walked the path.”
Thabanie Ndopie Sibanda agreed, saying, “very much true muZambia,” while Gibson Mapfidza said there was a familiarity about what Mbwando was saying.
“Your last statement sounds so familiar about the Warriors. Not sure where this potential disappears to every time,” he said.